Heineken Cup, Pool 2
Castres exact revenge on Leinster
December 12, 2008
Leinster's Chris Whitaker and Castres' Lionel Faure compete for a high ball during the clash at the Stade Pierre Antoine
© Getty Images
Castres beat Leinster 18-15 in their Heineken Cup Pool 2 clash at the Stade Pierre Antoine.
Lowly Castres, who are second-from-bottom in the French Championship, pulled off one of the shocks of this season's competition as Anthony Lagardere kicked them to an inspiring win in near-freezing conditions. Man-of-the-match Lagardere landed six out of seven penalty attempts, with his sixth and most important success coming 10 minutes from time.
Rudderless for most of the night and struggling at the breakdown, Leinster simply ran out of time as their winning run in Europe came to a disappointing end. They did muster first half tries from Girvan Dempsey and Jonathan Sexton but despite enjoying a playing advantage when Castres centre Steve Kefu was sin-binned, Michael Cheika's men were outfought.
Former captain Brian O'Driscoll gave Leinster a pre-match boost by passing a fitness test on a hamstring strain, although World Cup-winning prop CJ Van Der Linde was forced out with a calf injury. Castres, who made eight changes to the team that lost 33-3 in Dublin last weekend, have been under a cloud domestically and in Europe this season - winning only three of their 15 matches before tonight's clash.
This week's announcement that Laurent Travers and Laurent Labit will assume control at Stade Pierre Antoine for the next three seasons was hardly music to the ears of Alain Gaillard and his coaching staff. Castres' morale certainly came into question in the pre-match build-up and they got off to a nightmare start when Dempsey stole in for a fifth-minute try.
Charles Sika spilled an O'Driscoll kick close to his line and Dempsey deftly swooped on the loose ball to score. Jonathan Sexton added a superb conversion from the touchline. But the Leinster number 10 missed a much easier effort moments later and with Florian Faure, Chris Masoe and fit-again captain Lionel Nallet assuming control, the home side gradually got themselves into the game.
Lagardere's well-struck opening penalty bounced through off the left upright and Castres cut the gap to 7-6 when a Joe Tekori-inspired counter-attack saw Leinster infringe once again. The Irish side never built on that early promise and after a Rob Kearney knock-on, a wheeled scrum and an offside call, Lagardere sent over his third penalty success.
Stung into action, Leinster snuck back ahead in the 29th minute with a well-executed attack. Luke Fitzgerald punctured the hosts' midfield and strong carries from Jamie Heaslip, Shane Jennings and Simon Keogh helped Sexton crash over.
The try went unconverted and Leinster weathered a late storm from Castres, which included a bout of scrum pressure and a missed Lagardere penalty, to lead 12-9 at the break. Felipe Contepomi, who had recovered from a hand infection to play, began his second-half introduction with two missed penalties and Leinster continued to lack ideas in attack.
The harsh sin-binning of Kefu for killing the ball close to the posts gave the visitors an ideal chance to steady themselves and Contepomi duly kicked them into a 15-9 lead. Nevertheless, with plenty of hard hits and commitment from the fourth-placed Frenchmen, Leinster lost their discipline and shape as Castres turned the tide.
They forced a series of penalties which Lagardere impressively dispatched, after 60, 65 and 70 minutes. Posting their first European win since last January, Castres defended manfully in the closing stages and a brilliant steal on the deck from Masoe put the final nail in Leinster's coffin.
Leinster coach Michael Cheika admits next month's Heineken Cup clash with Wasps is almost "a final" as a result of this defeat. "We gave away too many free-kicks, we didn't play well at the ruck and they were pouring numbers in at the ruck. We needed to commit more numbers at the ruck and we got penalised heavily at that area and it cost us.
"We didn't play well tonight, we didn't have nearly enough field position and we didn't kick very well. We took our tries well though. It's a shame the winning run is at an end but now we cannot afford to have another loss, so (the Wasps game at Twickenham) is a straight shoot-out. It's a final almost."
The reigning Magners League champions scored a superb 41-11 win over Wasps at the RDS in October but they have struggled for consistency since then and Cheika will be demanding a rapid improvement from his players.
"We've got to take charge the next time (the Heineken Cup) comes around...get better and more solid in the pressure moments. We've got to get back to the level we showed in the first two rounds in Europe, and make sure by the time that we get to that Wasps game we're in a really competitive state because that's a really important match."
Former England international Phil Christophers, who played on the left wing for Castres, praised the way his team fought back from 15-9 down to end their recent run of defeats.
Christophers said: "The first 20 minutes there was pressure on us and we weren't playing to our strengths. But in the second half, we were more aggressive, we tackled and tackled and we got the crowd going with our play. We adopted a simple game-plan, played the game in Leinster's half and I could feel that they were doubting themselves a little bit.
"Once we put the pressure on, they put in a few bad kicks and we capitalised on their mistakes. We've lost five home games this season, so it's great to get back on the winning side."
Castres Olympique: T Bouquié; C Sika, S Kefu, L Mazars; P Christophers; A Lagardere, S Tillous-Borde, G Lensing, A Giorgadze, D Saayman, J Tekori, L Nallet [capt], L Tomiki, C Masoe, F Faure
Replacements: M Bonello, L Ducalcon, R Capo Ortega, K Kulimen, K Senio, T Sanchou, M Bourret
Leinster: G Dempsey; S Keogh, B O'Driscoll, L Fitzgerald, R Kearney; J Sexton, C Whitaker [capt]; S Wright, B Jackman, C Van Der Linde, D Toner, M O'Kelly, R Elsom, S Jennings, J Heaslip
Replacements: B Blaney, C Healy, T Hogan, S O'Brien, C Keane, F Contepomi, I Nacewa
Referee: Dave Pearson (England)